Grandpa Google? Tech giant begins antitrust defense by poking fun at its status among youth


WASHINGTON (AP) — A top Google executive testified Thursday that the company’s success is precarious and said its leadership fears their product could slide into irrelevance with younger internet users.

Prabhakar Raghavan, Google’s senior vice president for knowledge and information products, testified for the tech giant as it defends itself in the biggest antitrust trial in the last 25 years. The government has accused the company of illegally thwarting competitors from making inroads against its ubiquitous search engine.

Raghavan downplayed Google’s dominance and described it as a company beset by competitors on all sides. He said the company has been tagged with the disparaging moniker “Grandpa Google” among younger demographics who don’t see it as an interesting product.

“Grandpa Google knows the answers and will help you with homework,” Raghavan said. “But when it comes to doing interesting things, they like to start elsewhere.”

Google’s lawyers showed Raghavan a 1998 article from Fortune magazine which said “Yahoo! has won the search-engine wars and is poised for much bigger things.”

Raghavan, who once worked at Yahoo!, said Google spends massive amounts on research and development to try to stay ahead of the curve as technology evolves.

“I feel a keen sense not to become the next roadkill,” he said.

He cited a long list of innovations Google has made to its search engine over the last 20-plus years, from changing the way advertisers bid for space on a search results page to improving the match between what a user types in his query to the results he is actually seeking.

The Justice Department has presented evidence that Google secured its dominance in search by paying billions of dollars annually to Apple and other companies to lock in Google as the default search engine on iPhones and other popular products.

A Microsoft executive also testified that Google’s pre-eminent position becomes self-fulfilling, as it uses the data it aggregates from the billions of searches it conducts to improve the efficiency of future searches.

Google says its search engine is dominant because it has a better product than its competitors. The company said it invested in mobile devices and other emerging technologies more quickly than competitors like Microsoft, and that those investments are now paying off.

And it cited evidence that consumers switch their search engine to Google the majority of the time in cases where another search engine is offered as the default choice.

Raghavan, in his testimony, also said Google’s competition is not just traditional search engines like Microsoft’s Bing, but various “verticals” like Expedia or Yelp that people use to to facilitate travel or dining.

“We feel ourselves competing with them every day,” he said.

The antitrust case, the biggest since the Justice Department went after Microsoft and its dominance of internet browsers 25 years ago, was filed in 2020 during the Trump administration. The trial began last month, and Google is expected to present its case over the next month.

U.S. District Judge Amit Mehta is not expected to rule until early next year. If he decides Google broke the law, another trial will determine how to rein in its market power. One option would be to prohibit Google from paying companies to make Google a default search engine.

Google is also facing a similar antitrust lawsuit filed by the Justice Department in Alexandria, Virginia, over its advertising technology. That case has not yet gone to trial.

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